Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises


Where does one begin when reviewing The Dark Knight Rises?  The concluding chapter in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is much more than a superhero movie… it comments on and reflects many of our societal woes, our distrust of authority, of our financial institutions, our legal and judicial system, our hero worship, and our uneasy relationship with what is good and what is evil.  The Dark Knight Rises tackles issues and situations normally reserved for serious dramas… not fluffy summer blockbuster fare.

Yes, this film is chock full of action sequences… yet also spends a great deal of time allowing the plot and the motivations of each character to breathe in a way that felt rare.  Too often, more so with superhero films, I find myself annoyed at film makers rushing through scenes and/or filling their film with exposition in order to advance the story along to squeeze into a tidy 90 minutes… not so with Nolan.  He allows each scene to have its space, to allow the story to unfold in a way that I had not quite anticipated… although that was precisely what he did in The Dark Knight as well.  Although this is a Batman movie, I was surprised, and a bit relieved, at how little we actually see of the titular hero… instead, we get a film that is much more about social justice and the idea of the Bat-man… a screed both for and against the Occupy movement and for responsible capitalism as well as one cracker-jack of an action movie that delves into the psychology of a vigilante and the extent to which that form of justice may be needed… that the symbol can be more powerful than the man.  Big issues… big movie.

Batman has not been seen in eight years.  After having taken the fall for the crimes of Harvey Dent/Two-Face, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has kept himself in seclusion in Wayne Manor with his loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine) running constant interference.  Rumors abound as to what has happened to this recluse billionaire… his nails are long, he has been crippled, his face is scarred… and all the while a wealthy investor, Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), who has invested a great deal into Wayne Enterprises’ clean energy project, is trying to get an audience with the Howard Hughes-like shut-in.

While this is happening, there is a new terrorist in town… a large mountain of muscle with a creepy face mask and violent disposition, Bane (Tom Hardy)… and he is about to start a revolution in Gotham.  By attacking the Gotham Stock Exchange he makes himself known… and his philosophy is spelled out… these people don’t have your best interests at heart, we the people must rise up against the powerful and take our society and communities back. 

Thanks to the devil’s deal made between Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Batman at the end of The Dark Knight to cover up the crimes of Two-Face so that he could become the white knight as opposed to Batman’s Dark Knight, crime is at an all time low in Gotham and society has become a much greater place.  If you recall, in Batman Begins, R’as Al Ghul and his League of Shadows were going to destroy Gotham because it has become so corrupt and evil.  Thanks to Batman and Gordon’s deal, the Dent Law was enacted and gave police the teeth they needed to root out crime completely in Gotham thus elevating the city to previously unknown heights.  Bane sees to it that this is completely undone.

Will the Dark Knight return to face this new enemy of the people who is claiming to speak for the people?  Will the police accept his help or will they mark the Bat as the enemy?  As I mentioned earlier… this film allows the story to breathe… with constant forward motion, the plot unfolds in an extremely logical and emotionally rewarding way.

Although Heath Ledger’s Joker infused The Dark Knight with a rather manic and mentally unstable backbone to that film (out of respect for the late Ledger, his character is never mentioned), where chaos reigned… Bane infuses The Dark Knight Rises with a calm and premeditated feeling of absolute doom and horror.  His fear does not derive from that chaos but from his control.  At no point do you ever feel he loses that control… and a villain in control of his actions is a far more terrifying thing to face than chaotic evil.  Calculated evil is what nightmares of made of… and Bane becomes Gotham’s worst nightmare.

That about sums up the main plot.  Throughout this tapestry of a story though are a number of other story arcs… Bruce Wayne comes face to face early on with a attractive young cat burglar, Selena Kyle (Anne Hathaway), also known as, Catwoman… although that name is never uttered.  Another new character introduced in this film is Officer Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an earnest and dedicated young police officer who seems to know quite a bit about Batman and who he really is.  Both of these performances, Hathaway’s and Gordon-Levitt’s, are absolutely stellar.  In fact, every performance in this film is stupendous.  I had my issues with Katie Holmes in Batman Begins… I had my qualms with a few roles in The Dark Knight, at least with Bale’s voice when he was in the Bat-suit… but I can’t think of a single weak link in The Dark Knight Rises.  Nobody necessarily stands out because everyone does such a great job.  Tom Hardy manages to act the hell out of a character whose face and voice is obscured by some strange spring loaded gas mask yet his physicality permeates every scene he is in… simply outstanding.

A few words about Anne Hathaway… in my mind she is an untouchable goddess… in that cat-suit she is Bast.  There is not a pedestal tall enough for me to place her onto.  Ridiculous, yes… but that is how I feel about her. 

Before I risk dipping my toes into the sea of spoiler-ville, I will mention one last thing… Bale’s Batman voice is much better this time around… however, there are a few scenes where both he and Bane are exchanging a few words… I look forward to the Blu-ray and subtitles… they are a bit difficult to hear over the massive tympani of Hans Zimmer’s score.  When Zimmer want to make a musical point he seems to beat us over the head with the score… subtlety is not his strong point.  Effective… but not subtle.

What else could I possibly say?  I enjoyed every minute of this film and am looking forward to seeing it again.  I brought my 9 year old geek-in-training daughter with me and I can’t imagine a greater date to have had.  She watched me playing the two Batman video games (Arkham Asylum and Arkham City) and got into the two previous movies in a two day Bat-fest we had one weekend.  There were a number of moments in the film, moments we were both anticipating and shocked by, where we looked at one another and I saw a huge smile across her face… in what is ultimately a rather joyless film, that is the greatest joy I could imagine.  My eldest daughter is infected with the love of film and a love of the cinematic experience… I couldn’t be happier.

I’m going to write another post regarding the horror of the shooting in Aurora, Colorado and the effects that event has had on the film… I thought it best not to fill a review of the film with the sadness of the reality behind those tragic events.  If you were someone who hesitated to see this film over the weekend due to that prick, don’t allow yourself to be fearful.  Treat yourself to a great movie… and see The Dark Knight Rises.

This is not a film about outsourcing,
Cornelius J. Blahg

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